The very best tip I’ve ever seen for good storytelling is something I wholeheartedly believe to be true. If you want to be a good writer and storyteller … read.
I saw that admonition again most recently in my fourth time through “On Writing” by Stephen King.
Such a simple, profound thing. Don’t limit yourself. Open up your world. Read everything you can lay your hands on. Whether you want to write thrillers, fantasy, science fiction, suspense, romance or action/adventure; before you do anything else … read.
I believe in that advice. I’ve always been an avid reader. I encouraged my sons with it and, now that they’re grown, I’m delighted to see it passed on to my grandchildren. Read.
When they’re too young to read for themselves, read stories to them. The small effort it takes will pay enormous dividends.
Write Like You Read
When it comes to writing, we’ve all seen structural articles galore where professors, “experts” and pundits tell you to outline your plot. Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of the story. Develop those themes and characters in the second; then resolve it all in the rest.
Really? Those writers had to get advanced degrees to tell us to write a story that people would actually want to read?
Michael Moorcock is one of the more dazzling science fiction writers of our time, having written dozens of novels and short stories since the very early 1960s.
He claims to have followed such a scripted approach and, as I said, he’s a phenomenal story teller. I’ve enjoyed his work immensely.
But when I read his idea of how to go about writing is very like that rigid structure mentioned above, it was a letdown (sorry, Michael).
As his wide audience of fans will attest (and I am one), the man knows how to tell a good story.
That approach to writing, however, if you will pardon me for a moment of brutally honest opinion … is academic bullshit.
I’m much more a follower of Stephen King’s method (see my earlier post). I start with an intriguing what-if? question, then try to visualize what happens. I let the story come to me, then translate what I see and hear in my mind into words on the page.
I suppose, by doing that, I’m ignoring all the proferred rules, regulations, templates and I-told-you-so guidelines and creating my own, suitable for what I want to say.
I’d encourage you to try it, too. At least once.
Of course, if you’re more comfortable with notes and outlines and rigid structure; go for it. It seemed to work for Michael Moorcock, and my own Mrs. Bliss, bless her, if she were still around, would give you bonus points on your report card.
Perhaps the real method is to read good stories, absorb … and repeat. Create your own storytelling process, and judge by the rapt attention of your readers and listeners how it’s working.
Like I mentioned before, it’s the final story that counts … not how you got there.
If you have a moment, please watch the book trailer for REICHOLD STREET.